|REFORM PANEL OR ELECTION PLATFORM: "A CROSS BETWEEN DEJA-VU AND
15 January 2004
No one should accuse the hit team of not being innovative. They could take an old, tried and tired
idea and rehash it into a brand new one. They also have the guts to boldly present it to the media,
as a roadmap for the future.Whose future is another question.
After taking the old format of "friends of the Secretary General" in Afghanistan and trying to
copy it for Iraq, they hit on the "group of 18" formula for reform initiated by former Secretary
General Javier Perez de Ccuellar to launch with fanfare a "reform group" of 16. The difference in
the number of 2 individuals of that "initiative" from the previous one may be due to the overall
approach of showing some cuts while ensuring "the right people" are included.
Something about Bangkok must have a special attraction to the overworked yet determined leadership
team around Annan. When exploring an appointment of Special Representative for Iraq, the first name
they proposed was a former official from Thailand. His name was floated around the diplomatic
community as an effective candidate who was a "non-Arab Moslem". It didn't work. Iraq, for those
characters, was not a crisis with people involved, but a job prospect, an occasion to curry favor or
place someone who may return the elevator in due course. Thus, when the need to talk "reform" arose,
there was the opportunity again to place a favorite Thai, Anand Panyarachun as head of a group of 16.
No doubt the former diplomat has distinguished himself in his own country, but is little known
elsewhere. He has been given advice apparently on how to approach newly emerging world problems and
made a statement or two to appease the powers that be. He is reported to have the "same analysis as
the Secretary-General's thinking" -- which may puzzle many observers and amuse most. Ostensibly that
may give him some needed credentials. Mr. Panyarachun may be assuming that he is being thrust into a
forward position of potential visibility. That, in turn, will polish his name in the running for the
next post as Secretary General. After all, if the candidate is to come from Asia, as generally
projected, and Thailand is an Asian jewel, then who better than an internationally acknowledged
reformist, a Cambridge University graduate and a generous host. Little will he find out in time
that the gang that doesn't shoot straight will use him, but may have other cards up its sleeve.
There are of course a number of distinguished members of the reform panel, like former Norwegian
Prime Minister and with Director General Gro Harlem Brundtland, Sadako Okata-former UN High
Commissioner for Refugees, Amre Moussa-Secretary-General of the Arab League, Evgenii Primokav --
former Russian Prime Minister, Salim Salim-former OAU Security General, Sir David Hannay -- one of
the most effective British diplomats, and Nafis Sadik -- former Executive Director of the UN fund
for Population activities. However, as Barbara Crossette pointed out in "UN Wire", all are
essentially "establishment figures" who would hardly rock the dingy. They are likely to go along
with the proposed drafts while an allowance for some appropriate yet contained amendments. Besides,
for a group that is to look into the future, all of its members are above sixty-most in their
seventies. Come to think of it, Enrique Iglesias (the economist, not the young singer) may have
served on the former group of 18 in the early eighties.
That is what prompted a former high-ranking UN official to describe the new panel as "a cross
between deja-vu and amnesia". But then the purpose may have very little to do with reform and much
to do with preparing for a discreet re-election plan. Each member of the panel, drawn from all
geographical regions and most cultured backgrounds could bring influential support and
appreciative words of praise at the right timing. By the time a report is prepared and discussed,
the question of a new term or a new Secretary-General will be on everyone's mind. The hidden agenda
is almost a copycat of the "millennium" proposal when Annan was up for a second term. Only this
time the planners may need a reality check.